Salt Marsh Symphony

BevGuest Author, Bev Paulan, Wisconsin DNR pilot and former OM Field Supervisor

Hands down my favorite time of the year is when I get to come down to St. Mark’s and help out with the monitoring of the chicks. I love being out in the salt marsh with all of its unique sights, sounds and smells.  No two mornings or evenings are ever alike due to an ever shifting skyscape, winds, tides and a changing cast of characters, each with its own distinct voice.

The sun isn’t up yet as we walk along the path cut through the coastal forest. But the birds are starting to tune-up their portion of the chorus and the frogs are still peeping from the night’s performance.  Occasionally we hear an owl and this morning we heard three having a rather intense discussing about what, only they know.  By the time we get to the blind, the mockingbird and catbird that reside in the trees near the blind begin their scold of us for waking them too early. A Carolina wren joins in as a flicker raps on a dead tree.

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The chicks out in the pen are usually already afoot, checking out each feeder and stretching their wings after a long evening on the oyster bar. After feeding and drinking they begin to move with more purpose and stretch their necks forward in a pre-flight posture. Soon they are a-wing, flying circuits around the marsh.

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The last two mornings, adult 4-12 and 8-14 remained in the pen and called out to the others. 4-12 has, of course, a fully developed, beautiful crane voice, but 8-14 still honks. I’m not sure if it is the adult voice or the honking of the chick, but this noise sets off the resident Clapper rails and soon the marsh is alive with an unbelievable racket of cackles, grunts and honks.

The last 24 hours have had a pair of Snow geese and their two goslings foraging near the pen.  Snows do not have the loud honking call of Canada geese but rather a soft sweet whistling call.  When the costume approaches too closely, off they fly calling gently.

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When there is no breeze, the sounds of daily crane activity float across the marsh from the pen. We hear feeders being tapped, water splashed, purrs from the adults, peeps from the chicks and even the sound of wing beats of the dancing birds. All these sounds merge with the tang of salt in the air, the warm sun on my face and the sight of young birds growing up and learning about freedom to so firmly etch these memories into my mind it might just last until next year.

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  1. Dorothy N February 18, 2015 11:19 am

    Lovely photos and wonderful write-up. Thanks to all the wintertime writers for keeping us craniacs informed while we wait for the new crop of chicks to arrive!

  2. Vannie Zychowicz February 16, 2015 4:36 pm

    Think you for sharing this informanchon about the young whooper cranes and the snow guess.


  3. Madeline February 15, 2015 10:38 pm

    Thank you Bev for taking me with you for a day! I felt the joy and the peace and the promise. I look forward to hearing your enjoyment. And please give my best wishes to Brooke. Godspeed.

  4. Peter Smith February 15, 2015 7:27 pm

    Exquisite picture you so ably paint with your words, Bev. The big birds, and all of us craniacs, are so fortunate for you and Brooke to be there taking care of them. If we could only get all the rest of the eastern flock to check their cranephones and read the online reviews of the five star treatment you’re giving this class in FL, the entire eastern flock would be with you. Thank you both for all you’re doing. Huge treat for us.

  5. Warrenwesternpa February 15, 2015 7:13 pm

    Salt Marsh Sympathy Bev Palin

    Beverly: As many other commenters have spoken … Reading your report is like being there. You represent the sights and sounds, even the salt air smell so well. Some of us are in the real chill of winter but you have left a trail of warmth. Thank you so much!

  6. Sally Swanson February 14, 2015 10:09 pm

    thanks, Bev! I feel like I am there when reading your description of the morning!


  7. CrinksMom February 14, 2015 6:26 pm

    Thank you so much for the wonderful updates and pictures… keeping us apprised of the comings and goings in the marsh of our beloved whoopers.
    I know I speak for many other “Wisconsin craniacs” when I also thank you for being there – caring for Brooke – while his shoulder, errr, no, that was wing wasn’t it?, heals.
    Hoping to see you both again in September…

  8. Anna Roberson February 14, 2015 4:25 pm

    Beautifully written! Anna Roberson

  9. Bobbie February 14, 2015 2:37 pm

    Such a beautiful description. Thank you so much. I hope one day I might be able to go there and hear those wonderful sounds!

  10. Grandma February 14, 2015 11:10 am

    I would like to thank those that continue to write to keep us up to date. Speedy recovery to Brook. I like your humor Joe and Bev it was almost like being there reading your posting this morning.

  11. LaraLeaf February 14, 2015 10:39 am

    Your article is a very joyous commentary on the wonders of being far from the madding crowd – out with nature, doing what you love. Those sights and sounds fill the heart and expand the mind. I know experiencing things in nature can be cruel also, but witnessing its’ beauty and glory is breathtaking – and so centering. It is wonderful to read of your time with the cranes and all that comes with it.

  12. ffmn February 14, 2015 10:33 am

    How descriptive Bev Paulan ‘s made her article! Especially the different sounds and identifying them. It was if if ‘you are there’. Thank you Bev for that and for what you have done is the past for OM and currently doing for WI DNR (and doing counts periodically?)

  13. Linda Spyhalski February 14, 2015 9:32 am

    I hope that some day you and Brooke write a book about your experiences. Your writing is so beautiful and I know it would be a best seller!

  14. maxgreenwing February 14, 2015 9:27 am

    What a terrrrriffffic post!! Thanks so much. Feels as if one is right there in the marsh. 🙂 <3 Happy Valentine's Day <3

  15. Janet Westlake Bradford ON (CanadaJanEH) February 14, 2015 8:56 am

    THANK YOU for the Beautiful Love Story of the sights and sounds of Nature at St. Marks. It brought warmth to my heart as I peer out my window looking at snow falling and anticipating the temperature this afternoon falling to -13 F with a windchill of -42 F. I now have the challenge to pursue how I may experience this serenity sooner rather than later. Happy Valentine’s Day to All creatures Great and Small.

  16. Carol Phillips February 14, 2015 8:34 am

    So glad Bev shared her experience on our St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge. We are fortunate to have her here to help take care of these cranes.